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Officials debut in Manas talks
- India-Bhutan decide to set up working group on cooperation

Guwahati, Feb. 20: The first official-level meeting between India and Bhutan on transboundary co-operation has decided to set up working groups both at the local and national levels to help frame an operational manual.

The meeting held at Manas National Park today was attended by top-ranking officials from National Tiger Conservation Authority, forest department of Bhutan and other wildlife organisations like WWF, Wildlife Trust of India and Aaranyak.

Assam chief wildlife warden Suresh Chand suggested the idea of a working group, which was accepted and appreciated by others in the meeting.

“We need to know the ground realities both at the local and national levels to understand the various process and issues involved in charting out the trans-boundary area,” Chand said.

He said as a number of issues like joint patrolling, intelligence-sharing would form part of trans-boundary cooperation, it is essential to understand the nitty-gritty involved before going ahead with the process.

The trans-boundary Manas conservation area is a region of high biological diversity that extends along southeastern Bhutan and Assam and forms part of the mosaic of conservation spaces across Eastern Himalayas.

The Manas tiger reserve and Bhutan’s Royal Manas National Park form the core of this area that is home to tigers, elephants, rhinos and more than 1,500 other species of mammals, birds and plants.

Officials said this might be the only landscape in the world with eight species of cats — tiger, leopard, clouded leopard, marbled cat, golden cat, leopard cat, jungle cat and fishing cat — co-existing in the same area.

The meeting also decided to expedite the process of having a memorandum of understanding on wildlife cooperation, which has remained stuck for various reasons.

Speakers from both countries underlined the importance of trans-boundary cooperation, which is helpful in wildlife protection spanning across borders.

An official present in the meeting stated the tiger conservation authority has evinced interest in funding wildlife monitoring in Bhutan.

“On the Indian side, camera trapping has been going on but the process has not happened in Bhutan owing to financial reasons. This point was appreciated by the Bhutanese authorities,” he said.

The joint camera trapping work done by officials from both countries have resulted in 14 tigers being captured on camera in three ranges spanning 650km in the protected area.

Seven forest officials from Bhutan were present at the meeting.